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Buddy Melges: My Ultimate Sailing moment

Published on November 2nd, 2014

Photographer Sharon Green, in her newly released coffee table book 30 Years of Ultimate Sailing, sought out the leaders in the sport to share their Ultimate Sailing moments. Here Buddy Melges provides his…

My father was instrumental in my sailing, presenting me my first boat, a 10-foot sailing dinghy, at age 6; and that winter, my very own iceboat. The seed was sown: I was hooked on sailing! Then in 1940 (at age 10) I began racing sailboats. Now I was hooked on racing!

Fast forward to San Francisco for the 1978 Star Worlds, with 106 boats on the line. After we picked up Zenda – our Star hull and deck from Bill Gerard, the wheels began to turn on how to go fast. You cannot drive a spike with a rubber hammer! Fraser Beer made us super yarn tempered sails for the winds of the bay, while Andreas Josenhans was the catalyst for the final key. He strolled the parking lot looking at rigs and setup, then re-tuned our Star to find amazing upwind speed. The pre-race tuning was a confidence builder, as we were faster than everyone we lined up with; the hull, the sails, the rigging were all part of the mix to produce super hull speed.

That first race, in building seas and winds to 20 knots, proved to be ours: arriving at the first mark with a two – yes two! – minute lead on 105 Star boats, including the greats like Buchan, Blackaller, Conner, North, and the tough Europeans as well. That was ultimate sailing, something to behold! Except Andreas would have nothing to do with my looking around: it was not until the jibe mark that I sneaked a peek, although I could not make out the numbers on the second boat (who happened to be Dennis Conner). The next two races were ours as well. (Lowell North was heard to say “It is bad, but I didn’t think it was THIS bad!) And so it might have been with the fourth, had we not broken our vang. A Star is slow with Andreas sitting on the boom!

But Ding Schoonmaker won races four and five and Paul Henderson won the sixth race – making Zenda the king of Stars! Can you believe it?!

Sailing has taken me around the world, racing against the best of our sport, pitting yourself and crew against Mother Nature. But most importantly, I met Gloria at my first Star regatta, and that is the ultimate.

Thanks for the great ride!

Click here for information about Sharon Green’s 30 Years of Ultimate Sailing.

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